A short midmorning queue for tickets at one of the suburban railway stations in northeast Mumbai. Recently.
There are a total of 5 windows, 2 are open. One joins the shorter one, and within a minute rues the decision. While the lady at the other window, sells the ticket briskly, to a suddenly never ending queue, the lady at my window, suddenly gets up, discusses something with an official at the next window (closed), and proceeds to spend the next 15 minutes, opening and closing drawers, retrieving and receiving money from some official, and counting it , before depositing it in the aforementioned drawers. Several trains go by, people wait and shuffle from one foot to the other. Very clearly, the sudden money accounting and checking cannot happen in the ticket issuing time. The windows are officially closed periodically, with clearly announced timings, just for that. The adjoining queue continues its brisk move, and our queue is now interrupted by a few folks buying first class tickets. They are entitled to buy those at the same window, without getting into the queue.
Money talks. Officially.
A family death leading to a cremation. In 2000. A certificate from the cremating authorities, is submitted while going out at the office near the exit. Some knowledgeable folks, urge me to part with extra amounts like Rs 400 at the gate. I refuse. Out of respect for the departed soul, who would have abhorred that. One month later, the concerned paperwork from the crematorium office has not reached the municipal ward office, that can only then issue a death certificate. This normally takes few days after cremation. I threaten to visit the crematorium gate office, and question them. In the presence of other citizens who might be there. Nobody needs a ruckus. But I have learned one thing. And it doesn't matter if you are dead or alive.
Money continues to talk. Unofficially.
Long ago, several decades ago, one had occasion to visit the Marriage Registration Office. Then the only one near Town Hall . To submit an application specifying intention of getting married, and arranging to call the Registrar to a residence for the short legal ceremony. An almost silent abandoned office, and one is keenly observed by folks who think only those running away, or facing opposition, come there to get married /invite the Registrar. Marriage registration then was not mandatory. The Registrar noted the date, signed, was escorted to and from with great respect on the appointed day. The government then trusted its citizens.
Cut to a few weeks ago, and the office, or better still, now a branch of the original, for the suburbs, is now an overcrowded bustling set up, with long queues, lawyers offering to get stuff done for you, for a fee. The mandatory 1 month waiting period rule still exists. But there are people , right now, offering you guaranteed dates of marriage after that, for a bunch of fees of course. Which probably get shared up and down the official hierarchy. Officials appear to be available to visit residences . For a fee. Which makes my jaw drop. And my head reel in disgust. We are told it is an unofficial fee. Marriage registration is now mandated by the government, many NRI types need to do visa work immediately after marriage for their spouses, and need immediate certificates, and so this entire service is available at a premium.
Money continues to talk. Unofficially.
Those who get married with religious ceremonies, must get it certified by the presiding priest, and then apply for a marriage certificate at the above office. Turns out there is a long queue at the office, and some folks offer to get you a place in the queue. You reach a bit late thanks to the permanent vagaries of Mumbai traffic. You are told your place in the queue has been missed out. Payment of a certain amount will retrieve the place.
Money continues to talk. A bit too much. Unofficially.
And now it talks like in the Bollywood movies. It is the leading hero in sting operations, shown continually on our television sets. There are villains, threats, denials, lies, and beautiful vamps. It even appears as the fourth or fifth umpire in certain ball games.
Way back, we did not have so many educational institutions, but we had education for those who wanted it. Today, money talks so much, and from so many towers and hi-fi rooftops , that education has become an industry. You pay, you get; you have rules , then you pay someone and defy them .
Money continues to talk. Blatantly. And everytime the authorities make new laws and rules, it rubs its hands in glee at the prospect of defining loopholes and breaking the laws.
There is no stage of life immune to its influence.
One is glad one grew up when one did.
Money didn't talk then. Perhaps it occasionally whispered. And swore.
But mostly , it simply pursed its lips and glared .